Ontario's Heermann's Gull

Toronto 14 November 1999 to 16 September 2000

Bruce Massey discovered this first cycle Heermann's Gull at a city service yard in the Toronto Portlands on 14 November 1999. During its 10 month stay until 16 September 2000, hundreds of birders and nonbirders came to see this famous gull. The Heermann's Gull spent much time at Polson Street, where this photo was taken on 25 May 2000. In this pre digital era, I took hundreds of photos.


During its long stay, Ron Pittaway and I documented its plumages and molt. After checking the Birds of North America and other references we realized little was known about first and early second cycle Heermann's Gulls. Our findings were published in the following article.

Molts and Plumages of Ontario's Heermann's Gull - Ontario Birds Vol 19 (2) 65:78. August 2001.


An enquiry from Nancy Barrett on 9 February 2015 prompted me to post scanned photos of this super gull and a link to an article in Ontario Birds.


Craig McLauchlan took one the earliest photos of the Heermann's Gull in first winter plumage on Cherry Street in the Toronto Portlands on 1 December 1999.


Here it shows the molt contrast of older brown juvenile wing coverts, tertials and body feathers with newer fresh greyish first winter (formative) head, body and scapular feathers. 2 January 2000.


As the winter progressed, old juvenile wing coverts and tertials became more worn and faded. First winter (formative) greyish scapulars also were worn. 21 February 2000 on Polson Street in the Toronto Portlands.


During March, new grey scapulars molted in. Wing coverts were still super worn. Its chin became speckled with white. Ron Pittaway took this photo on 2 April 2000 at Polson Street.


Staying mostly in the Toronto Portlands, it took a few flights to Hamilton on 23 February and 6 March, and to Humber Bay Park in Toronto where this photo was taken on 5 April 2000.


More new dark grey second winter (basic) wing coverts, and amount of white on the head, face and chin increased.11 June 2000 at Polson Street, same date as next photo showing wing molt.


On 11 June 2000, the wings showed heavy primary molt with new dark grey second winter (basic) primaries 1-6, where primaries 5 and 6 were partly grown. Primary 7 is shed, and 8-10 are retained juvenile primaries, which will molt soon. The white spots are the white quill bases to the primary coverts where other primary coverts have shed. Browner secondaries have not yet molted. Note also new dark grey wing coverts.


The Heermann's Gull stayed to 16 September 2000, when it took off from Polson Street and with great disappointment we didn't see it again. This is what it looked like on 8 September 2000.



Incredible news. A second cycle Heermann's Gull showed up at Fort De Soto, Florida, on 24 October 2000. Was it our Toronto Heermann's? Ron and I flew to Florida to check it out.


The Florida Heermann's Gull with a Laughing Gull on the beach at Fort de Soto on 25 November 2000.


Florida Heermann's on the beach at Fort De Soto on 25 November 2000. The plumage was different from our Heermann's Gull, which had molted all its old brown juvenile feathers, whereas the Florida bird still had a few worn faded juvenile coverts on the left side - see above. We had hoped it was our Heermann's Gull and it would spend the winter in more pleasant temperatures than in Toronto.


See link to Lynn Atherton's photos of the Florida Heermann's Gull

Note in photo 4, several old worn coverts and two worn brown juvenile lower scapulars. Unfortunately it could not be the Toronto Heermann's. We still think fondly of our Toronto Heermann's and wonder where it went.